Self Harm

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March
21

Self harm is a complex issue and often misunderstood.

On average, 15 to 17 percent of Canadian youth will self injure due to mental anguish.  The most common being; cutting.  Other methods include: burning, hair-pulling, purging, head banging, hitting oneself and ingesting harmful substances.

Adults respond in many different ways which include; empathy, sadness, shock, anxiety and even disgust or judgment. Most of these reactions are detrimental and it is important to understand why, so that you can understand why empathy is the only beneficial  reaction.

Typically these youth feel very intense emotions and have difficulty regulating these  emotions.  Therefore, when they feel intense anger, sadness, or anxiety the young adult  will engage in self-harm as a way to relieve their distress.

Other times, they will engage  in this behaviour in order to combat a sense of numbness, to gain a sense of control, to express anger, to punish themselves, or the elicit attention from others.  This is done because they feel better afterwards, even if only for a short time.  Therefore, it is a coping strategy.

A misconception is that self-injury is a form of suicide.  Those who self-harm are at an increased risk of suicidality because of the intense distress they are feeling. It is important to remember that the majority of those who self-injure are attempting to cope with their pain, and are explicitly not intending to end their life.

The most important thing to remember when you come across this behaviour is to speak to the young adult about their wounds in a calm, respectful way.  Listen to them without shock or judgment.  Encourage them to use their voice rather than their bodies as  self-expression.  Approach this conversation with an open mind, and aim to understand both their distress, and how self injury helps them cope.  While ensuring their safety and  minimizing harm, help them find other coping strategies that will help reduce their  distress.

Legal Precedent Helps Child Abuse Victims

Posted by: rodgers.cyndy@gmail.com Tags: There is no tags | Categories: The basics

March
18

On March 17th, 2016, Judge Wilson had the wisdom and courage to rule that an abused child does not have to spend time with an abusive parent, even in supervised visits. Wisdom because she understood that supervised visits triggers distressing nightmares and memory disturbances of the abuse they have suffered.  Courage because an abusive parent has never been denied parental access to the children he or she abused.  A big shout out to the lawyer Mary Helms for her fortitude in making sure the right minded people came together to discuss this issue.  To the mental health worker who spoke the truth about how a parenting class will not change abusive behaviour and to the family who were willing to speak the truth about the abuse until someone would listen, your deep strength is inspiring.  I am so proud of the role I played in furthering the cause of protecting children from  abuse and I can’t thank you enough for what each of you was able to do.  Of the 80 percent of children that are not helped by both the institutes of health and education, the justice system has stepped up and because they did the children involved will not be part of that 80 percent.

Weight, Physical Activity and the Child’s Brain

Posted by: rodgers.cyndy@gmail.com Tags: There is no tags | Categories: behaviour & Learning, Children, The basics

March
8

Two years ago, I was unhappy and knew it was my job that was causing this state.  I felt ineffective at helping the children I was supposed to be helping.

Always interested in learning, I started to undertake my own research into the best methods of helping children.  At the end of that year I learned there are two sure fire methods of helping ‘at risk’ children.

The first, was how consistent daily exercise improves the functioning of all the organs, joints, muscles, tendons, skin and brain.  An established fact, exercise improves mental health and has a better success rate than all the therapies I undertook as a counsellor.

The second, was an approach to helping others developed by Carl Rodgers in 1960, and used exclusively on adults but not children. Now Dr. Ross Greene at Harvard University developed it into a methodology that caterers to childrens’ problems called Collaborative Problem Solving where the child is seen as the problem solver and not just the problem.  Each on it’s own helps children and together they are an unbeatable formula.

Facing the reality that these two methods were never going to be incorporated into the schools during my time as a counsellor, (due to the lack of support of staff by School Divisions toward mental health issues of their students) I decided to branch out on my own.  I am committed to bringing these issues forward by passing on the research to everyone I come in contact with.

Researchers at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia believe that weight and physical activity levels are both factors in a child’s ability to acquire and use knowledge.

The study, published in the journal Pediatric Exercise Science, provides some of the first evidence that weight, independent of physical activity, is a factor.

Investigators looked at 45 normal-weight children age seven to 11, including 24 who were active and 21 who weren’t. Children were considered physically active if they participated in organized activities such as swimming, gymnastics, soccer, or dance for more than an hour per week.  The optimal method for mainstream children is 40 minutes a day and for ‘at risk’ children, it is an hour per day.

The study also looked at 45 inactive, overweight children with very similar demographics, with exact matches on gender and race, and close matches on other relevant issues such as parents’ marital status and education level and age. The matching of subjects and backgrounds helped to ensure that any differences were not strongly linked to socioeconomic status.

As expected, the 24 normal-weight, physically active children had a lower body mass index, or BMI, less fat, and a lower resting heart rate than the overweight, inactive children.

For example, when the active, healthy-weight group was compared to the overweight, inactive cohort significant differences were discovered. That is, the active group scored nine points higher for planning (things such as figuring out and carrying out a strategy and using knowledge), and eight points higher for their ability to pay attention.

Weight as an independent factor among inactive children generated an even bigger difference in the ability to pay attention, with normal-weight inactive children scoring 12 points higher. Those kinds of numbers could be the difference between a child being average in terms of his cognitive function and at the top end of the normal range.

In fact, the thinner, inactive kids scored higher on attention as well as a summary measure of cognition than their heavier peers.

Still, comparing inactive and active children who were all a healthy weight showed that activity alone clearly provided an edge, with the active children scoring higher in most areas of cognitive function, including 11 points higher for their ability to plan and seven points higher in attention.

“Activity made a difference even among normal-weight kids. That verifies that physical activity makes a difference in brain function,” Davis said.

While this study focused on weight, it’s likely the amount of body fat is what actually matters and overweight children in the study consistently had more fat, rather than having a higher weight because of extra muscle mass, for example.

The current research builds on past findings as both overweight and inactivity have been independently associated with a cognitive disadvantage in children. Davis published a study in 2011 in Health Psychology that showed regular exercise improves the ability of overweight, previously inactive children to think, plan, and even do math.

Those who participated in 40 minutes of exercise every day after school garnered even more improvement than those who were active for about 20 minutes daily.

That study also used the Cognitive Assessment System as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging, which showed those who exercised experienced increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex –an area associated with complex thinking, decision-making, and correct social behavior.

Source: Medical College at Georgia/EurekAlert

PTSD in Children

Posted by: rodgers.cyndy@gmail.com Tags: There is no tags | Categories: Children, For Parents, For teachers, PTSD in children, The basics

March
3

While many adults find it hard to believe that children can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can be as common in children as in adults. What began as a disorder mostly of combat veterans has been shown to affect numerous trauma survivors across many situations.

Trauma comes in many forms. A child could be traumatized by a major event, such as physical or sexual abuse, a car accident, or by witnessing a horrifying event. Those are the easier ones to identify. But children can also be traumatized from a conglomeration of daily toxic stress, such as living in poverty or constant bullying.

It can be hard for parents and caregivers to know when a child is having a normal stress reaction and when it might be something more. PTSD in younger children can present in numerous ways via a variety of symptoms, such as increased sadness, withdrawal or aggression.

But there are key differences and signs to look for. Watch for sudden changes in the child. Children who suddenly begin frequently complaining of feeling sick or not wanting to do activities that they used to enjoy can be unconsciously signaling a trauma response and a cry for further help. In addition, changes in sleep patterns, frequent nightmares, and decrease or increase in appetite also often occur in a PTSD trauma response.  Children communicate with behaviour and it pays to pay attention to their actions.

There are other signs caregivers can look for. First, watch the child’s play. Young children often use play to say what they can’t find a way to say with words. Look for changes in play, such as increased aggression or less distress tolerance.

You can guide play activities and utilize a few techniques used by mental health professionals to monitor trauma responses. For example, have the child draw a picture or act out a scene with dolls or puppets. If the child refers to something that might possibly have been traumatic to him or her via the activity, then he or she may be having difficulty processing the trauma.

Regressions in development may be a second warning sign that something is going on. For example, the child spontaneously doesn’t want to sleep in his or her own room anymore, or has become fearful of the dark suddenly. Frequent bedwetting can be another sign to explore. These behavior changes often are the result of a trauma that needs further intervention.

It is important to remember that young children do not always use words to convey messages. As such, parents and caregivers need to become detectives. Pay attention to the child’s behaviors. Be open to signs that suggest more might be going on than normal developmental processes. Contact a pediatrician or a mental health professional if you feel there is cause for concern.

A Cure for Schizophrenia is coming soon

Posted by: rodgers.cyndy@gmail.com Tags: There is no tags | Categories: The basics

February
2

Forty to fifty years ago, a prevalent theory was; schizophrenia was caused by having a bad mother. Since then there have been hundreds of theories about this mental illness over the years, but one of the enduring mysteries has been how the following three prominent findings are related to each other: the apparent involvement of immune molecules in the disorder, the age of its typical onset in late adolescence and early adulthood, and the thinning of grey matter seen in autopsies of people with this disease.

Researchers, chiefly from the Broad Institute, Harvard geneticist Steven McCarroll from Harvard Medical School and Beth Stevens from the Children’s Hospital in Boston, found that a person’s risk of schizophrenia is dramatically increased if they inherit modifications of a gene important to “synaptic pruning” — the healthy reduction during adolescence of brain-cell connections that are no longer needed. (Synapses are connections between brain cells, or neurons and occasional pruning is needed to remove rarely-used synapses to increase efficiency of the entire network — a process that typically begins during adolescence.  Excessive pruning, though, can cause problems.)

For the first time, scientists have pinned down a molecular process in the brain that helps trigger schizophrenia providing the first evidence of a physiological source for the debilitating disorder.  In July 2014, Broad researchers published the results of the largest genomic study on the disorder and found more than 100 genetic locations linked to schizophrenia. The information was drawn from dozens of studies performed in 22 countries, all of which contribute to the worldwide database called the Psychiatric Genome Consortium.

In patients with schizophrenia, a variation in a single position in the DNA sequence marks synapses for removal and that process goes out of control. The result is an abnormal loss of grey matter.  The highest peak was on chromosome 6, where McCarroll’s team discovered the gene variant. C4 was “a dark corner of the human genome,” he said, an area difficult to decipher because of its “astonishing level” of diversity.  C4 and numerous other genes reside in a region of chromosome 6 involved in the immune system, which clears out pathogens and similar cellular debris from the brain.  The study’s researchers found that one of C4’s variants, C4A, was most associated with a risk for schizophrenia.

Most psychiatric drugs seek to interrupt psychotic thinking, but experts agree that psychosis is just a single symptom — and a late-occurring one at that.  These findings may allow future treatments to be directed at the root of the affliction rather than at its symptoms. This research indicates the strong potential for early detection and new treatments that were unthinkable just a year ago and proves that having a bad mother is not the root cause of schizophrenia.

December
12

We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but few people realize the mental health benefits.  Regular  physical activity has a positive effect on depression, ADHD, memory, overall mood and age.  Yes, exercise can improve your health, trim your waistline, improve your sex life and add years to your life.  What people sometimes forget, is that it makes you feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have a sharper memory, and feel more relaxed and positive about yourself.

Many studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression.  It is a powerful depression fighter for many  reasons.  It promotes changes in the brain, including neural growth and reduces inflammation(what some researchers are now saying is the cause of depression).  It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals  that energize your spirit and make you feel good.

Exercise is a natural and effective antianxiety treatment.  It relieves tension and stress, negative mental energy and  enhances feelings of well being as it interrupts the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Stress causes your body to tense it’s muscles, especially in your face, neck, shoulders, leaving you with back or neck  pain, or painful headaches.  You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse or muscle cramps.  You many also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomache (very common in children), diarrhea, or frequent  urination.  The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a  vicious cycle between your brain and body.  Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle.  It helps to relax the  muscle and relieve tension.  It boosts your immune system and reduces the impact of stress.  Since the mind and body are linked, when your body feels better so, too, does your mind.  (In the face of all this research, I find it disheartening  that the medical profession would rather prescribe drugs, than exercise.)

The most easiest and effective way to to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, improve concentration, motivation, memory and mood is regular exercise.  Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine,                                                  norepinephrine and serotonin levels – all of which improve focus and attention.  Exercise works in much the same way as Ritalin and Adderall, the two most common medications for ADHD.  It is important that children diagnosed with ADHD get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.  It should be part of their educational programming.

Evidence also suggests that exercising helps with PTSD.  When you focus on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilizing stress  response that characterizes PTSD.

When you are faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthier way, instead  of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviours, like emotional eating.

 

November
16

What parents want teachers and schools to know and understand.

One of the most common questions I get asked by teachers is, “What do parents want from us?”

The answer is Understanding.  Parents of children with inappropriate behaviour want to know and believe that the teachers and the rest of the school personnel understand them and their child.

The most common complaint I hear from parents is that they feel judged whenever they have to go into a school for a meeting about their child’s behaviour. Their number one request or wish is, “I need to be listened to without feeling judged.” When this does not happen they immediately feel defensive resulting in a strong need to protect both themselves and their child.   Most parents are probably in fight-for-their-child mode more than there’re not. They have to make sure not only the school, but doctors and counsellors listen. They have to fight to get him or her assistance. They have to be the translator when people don’t understand their child. They are the playground monitor and always on alert, ready to help the child when needed.  This makes them tired, weary and disheartened, especially when the school division, mental health and the politicians keep regurgitating the rhetoric of supporting all children.  Their experiences tell them otherwise.

What they want you to understand is that they are not sure where they fit in. Sure, their parents, but their child is not typical. They are dealing with things most parents don’t, even with other parents of behaviourally challenged children. Perhaps their child talks less and acts out more. The feel like they don’t fit in with them either.

Chances are these parents do the bulk of the work by themselves. Many parents find they have to reteach their child the lessons he or she was taught in school.  Because the school environment was not conducive for the child, “to get it” so they spend their evenings going over the information and helping the child understand just what the homework means. One parent is busy working to support the family, often she is a single parent. All that work costs in time and money. They don’t have money to go out on the town with friends, and it’s pretty complicated for them to get out just for coffee. Sadly, some friends stop hanging around because they can’t handle the challenges the family is facing. And, sometimes they withdraw into themselves because they just doesn’t have the energy to explain things.

They feel misunderstood. For example, people think one or both parents are too controlling. What you don’t understand is that these parents constantly have to think of what their child’s challenges are and observe the environment for how it will affect the child. Some parents feel they have to think ahead and come up with not just one, but multiple scenarios and plan for each. They have to think of all the extra things most parents don’t have to think about. They have to translate what the child’s doing or saying. They don’t mean to be bossy. Experience has taught them these skills because if they didn’t, the result was bad.

They want to talk but don’t have much to say. Sometimes they’re just too tired to think of anything. This doesn’t mean they don’t want to have a closer relationship with the school. It just means there may be occasions when they want to hear what you have to say without saying much.

My intent is to educate and to close the gap between the “us” vs “them” attitude that is prevalent. It is important that both the school personnel and the parents are communicating in kindness to reduce misunderstandings. Parents need to make sure they are not “playing the victim” and teachers need to make sure they are not “playing the expert”.

I’m simply sharing some of my own inner thoughts and those of other parents that don’t get discussed very often.  If you have things you need to say or thoughts you would like to share please leave a comment.

October
28

In 2014 the Canadian Mental Health Commission (CMHC) released a disturbing report estimating 14 to 25 percent, (1.2 million) children and youth in Canada, are experiencing significant mental health conditions – yet only 20 percent of these children will receive appropriate treatment during their school years.  The rest of these children are trying to function in school with little to no help.  Two-thirds of the adults who are presently experiencing a mental health condition report their symptoms first appeared during their youth, with half of these difficulties surfacing before the age of fourteen. Once these children leave high school, they head towards university or college where they continue to suffer and struggle.  Yet I recently read a report from a local politician where he said, “Our government understands that student success from early education to post-secondary education is fundamental is keeping Saskatchewan (us) strong.  That’s why we aim to put students first in everything we do.”  He is obviously only thinking about those students who achieve academically, because the students who struggle in our North American educational settings are ignored.

Most colleges in the United Sates, track these children and these statistics plus the ones tracked by CMHC strongly indicates there is a group of children who are being ignored or marginalized and my own research suggests they are often punished because of their behaviour.  According to Benjamin Locke, associate director for clinical services at Pen State, one in three students now starts college with a prior diagnosis of mental disorder.  Ten percent of those seeking services in 2014 had previously been hospitalized for mental health concerns, says Locke who as head of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) compiles an annual report summarizing counselling intake data from more than 100,000 students at 140 schools.  So now all students entering Penn State take an online mental health course before arriving on campus. Eisenberg’s Healthy Minds Study indicates that 19 percent of all college students regularly take psychotropic meds- antidepressants, anxiolytics and stimulants such as Adderall.  And according to the 2014 CCMH study, 24 percent of students purposely injure themselves without the intent to commit suicide.  The number is slowly increasing, up from 21 percent in 2008.

Academic or social stress, late-night cram sessions or any disruption of routine in the campus environment can shatter the student’s stability.  Distress on campus takes a variety of forms, but far and away the leading concern in 2015 is anxiety – 54 percent of all college students report feeling overwhelming anxiety, up from 46.4 percent in 2010, according to the latest semi-annual survey conducted by the American College Health Association.  That wasn’t always the case.  Until recently, anxiety vied with disabling depression and relationship problems until about five years ago, when child psychologists agree, anxiety began outstripping other concerns.  And each year the divide increases, says Micky Sharma, director of student counselling at Ohio State University.  “For 47 percent of clients seeking counselling – anxiety is the primary complaint.  Students feel overwhelmed.  They can’t manage.”  In Cornel University’s latest survey of students, 38 percent of undergraduates said that they had been unable to function academically for more than a week.  Even in my own practise, I couldn’t help but become alarmed at the rising number of referrals for anxiety.

Much of this anxiety is socially driven.  “Students feel inept about romantic relationships,” observes David Wallace, head of counselling at the University of Missouri.  Students have difficulties establishing relationships, handling conflict within them, and enduring breakups.  Anxiety is a by-product of thinking, but it is incapacitating without the ability to apply critical thinking skills to emotional reactions. Students with anxiety type issues are missing these skills.

Experts find it difficult to pinpoint why there is such an alarming amount of suffering children.  It may be that lacking the ability to emotionally regulate themselves, students feel things especially intensely – beyond their ability to articulate their feelings.  What ever the reason for these increases, these children all seem to lack interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.  Narrowing down the investigation is why are these skills missing in the younger generation?

One suggested explanation is that having had- or been allowed to have – few disappointments in their over parented, over trophied lives, many have not learned to handle difficulty.  In the absence of skills to dispel disappointment, difficulty becomes catastrophe.  The bottom line being – these children are missing basic life skills that needed to be taught previous to them trying to handle life on their own.

Recent research has found that there is a link between feels of distress to how much competition students face in their classes/grades/school.  Of course, some competitiveness is good, a spur to excellence, but there is a threshold at which it begins to have negative psychological effects and shifts motivation from learning to performance.  Perceived competitiveness, increases by 40 percent, the odds of positively screening for depression and students who reported that their classes were ‘very competitive’ had 70 percent higher odds of screening positive for anxiety.

Here’s the catch:  If students felt their classmates were more teammates than rivals, more collaborative than cutthroat, they were spared the negative mental health effects of competition as peer support mitigates this effect.  Unfortunately, North American schools are attuned to their status rankings, especially in the areas of math and reading, so they are less likely to address the effects of competition.

Without getting the help they need, children turn towards self-medication, the cheapest being alcohol.  It is not aimed at helping themselves deal with these situations rather the purpose is total obliteration of consciousness and the rates of addiction are also rising amoung children at a younger age.

In the absence of basic coping skills, everything is a stressor.  While many of us view stress as one of our top health concerns, a source not only of headaches and high blood pressure, but diabetes and depression.  Stanford psychologist Alia Crum has gathered evidence that the alarm creates a mind-set that stress is negative – which paradoxically gives rise to its harmful effects on the mind and body.   Yet there is a huge amount of research showing that stress enhances cognitive performance.  It focuses attention, speeds up cognitive processing and allows the mind to take in gobs of new information.  It makes experiences more salient, adding a sense of meaning and a source of learning, growth and progress. Crum’s work finds that people who see stress as an enhancing challenge develop a set of positive emotions.  Those positive emotions allow them to engage in demanding activities without experiencing the debilitating effects of stress on body systems.  Behaviour and neurological functioning cohabitate; therefore, you can’t change one without changing the other.  And in a world of so many distractions and few coping skills, this negative view of stress may be causing increased rates of depression, anxiety and a host of other stress related ailments.

The current method of dealing with children is making sure not to damage their fragile emotional state or their vulnerable sense of self.  Ego strength is so lacking that even in the face of concrete evidence the child will say, “It can’t be my fault, because nothing is ever my fault.  It must be the teachers, other students and school’s fault.”  Such thinking simply infantilizes children; it robs the child of a sense of efficacy.   Many children have not been allowed to develop stress tolerance and some of the coping with their own emotions is developmentally delayed.

Hardships can be seen as an asset, that adversity can breed an array of worthy skills – grit, resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, even knowing how to clean their own room. It is not that this generation glides through life.  But they have their strengths, generally hidden even from themselves in an atmosphere that forefronts their weaknesses, especially if they don’t achieve high academic marks.

We need to reset our priorities in order to restore to this generation bred to believe that failure is not an option, the ability to cope with disappointment and undo the damage done by a generation of well-meaning adults.  A move from, or even some flexibility within the focus on math and literature to that of a more inclusive skill based education is warranted and the politicians need a reality check.

Please help me change the current attitude towards children who struggle by subscribing to my web page www.believechildren.com.

October
16

A recent article in Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada described a disturbing review of the use of solitary confinement in Ontario’s 20 youth detention centers.  The 78-page report from the Advocate for Children and Youth found that “provincial practices fall well short of international standards.”  According the article, “in 2014, Ontario facilities placed 164 young people in solitary for periods beyond 24 hours. Thirty-eight of those placements stretched over 72 hours and 13 lasted in excess of five days. In rare cases, youths spent more than 15 days in the isolation cells.”  Several youth reported experiencing “humiliating and degrading” conditions while in solitary confinement.
Research in the neurosciences shows that punitive, adversarial, reactive, unilateral, ineffective, and counterproductive interventions, such as solitary confinement, can have harmful, adverse effects on children.  Together we KAAN make a difference!
Click here to urge the Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services, Hon. Tracey MacCharles, to take steps to dramatically reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of solitary confinement in Ontario’s juvenile detention facilities.  The email you send will contain a link to free, educational, evidenced-based resources that are a compassionate, effective alternative to use of solitary confinement.
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Lives in the Balance, home of the
Kids Advocacy Action Network (KAAN)

Urge Minister of Children & Youth Services to Take Action Against Seclusion! | Lives in the Balance.